In this blog, Dan Sandhu – CEO of Sparx – discusses the highlights of his recent visit to New York to meet with the Center for Universal Education and attend education-related events surrounding the United Nations General Assembly. 

“Evidence is the currency we need to get efficiency and impact” – George Werner, Former Minister of Education in Liberia.

What a week! At the end of September, I was lucky enough to be invited to New York for events surrounding the 74th United Nations (UN) General Assembly (#UNGA). This year’s theme was “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”. This week also marked the beginning of a new adventure for me as a member of the Leadership Council for the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at The Brookings Institution. I feel honoured that Sparx, through my membership of this esteemed council, has been acknowledged for our focus on evidence-based solutions in order to improve life opportunities for learners around the world. 

Similar to previous UN General Assembly meetings, the urgent need to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) was a focus for many of the events. SDG 4: ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. We are now only 10 years away from this goal’s deadline of 2030, so we must act now…

Over 260 million children and youth aged 6 to 17 were still out of school in 2017, and more than half of children and adolescents are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics [1]. It is shocking that this is not plastered over headline news, akin to the impressive school climate strikes, the Thomas Cook cessation, and of course, the dreaded Brexit.

After attending a range of education-related events at UNGA, I was left feeling a mix of passion, responsibility and determination. From Dr Rebecca Winthrop’s talk on scaling quality education to joining some of the world’s most influential leaders at UNICEF’s HQ next to the UN, the week was full of new experiences for me.

One highlight particularly resonated; Gordon Brown  – UN Envoy for Education and former UK Prime Minister – challenged us to consider why we are not protesting for the 260 million children as we are with climate change. Those children don’t even have a school to walk out of – we must act on Gordon’s plea to better the system and end the current global learning crisis. And we must do this now.

I firmly believe that technology is well-placed to help achieve this. Whether that is through reducing teacher workload, providing high-quality resources to lower-income areas, or motivating students to engage in their work, technology has endless potential. 

‘Transforming the Education Workforce: Learning Teams for a Learning Generation’ – a new report from the Education Commission (a global initiative dedicated to greater progress on SDG 4) – suggests how technology can be used to help reach SDG 4 by 2030. This report is based on a key recommendation from the Education Commission’s previous report – The Learning Generation – and is a result of generous support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.

Within the report, three visions for change aim to address urgent education challenges and leverage opportunities for change.

  • Vision 1: Strengthening existing systems
  • Vision 2: Developing learning teams
  • Vision 3: Transforming an education system into a learning system

Two out of the three visions cite technology as a contributing factor in their suggested approaches to change (visions two and three). For example, ‘task-shifting administrative activities to technology or support staff where possible’ sits underneath ‘Developing instructional leadership’, as well as using technology-assisted learning to address individual learning needs and collaboration with technology providers to develop, test, and scale cost-effective technology-based solutions. 

The inclusion of technology in the Education Commission’s report, alongside my appointment to the CUE’s leadership council, demonstrates a better understanding of the educational technology (EdTech) sector and a raised awareness of its impact to make positive change and transform learning systems.